Saturday, February 4, 2023

Four American Families: A History


For the past 25 plus years, I have been collecting and organizing information on my ancestors.  Nine years ago, I began writing narratives based on that information.  COVID provided me with the impetus and opportunity to expand those narratives and gather them into a book.  I completed that work by end of 2022 and began work on preparing it for printing.  Finally, it is completed and is available for purchase either as a paperback ($15.57) or an e-book (.99).

This 239 page book tells the stories of the Pickett, Muir, Platt, and Campbell families.  These families came to America at different times and under different circumstances.  Two were here before the Revolutionary War and had significant financial resources.  Another came from Scotland and Ireland and struggled to establish itself.  The history of the fourth is murky and can only be traced to the early 19th Century.  In different ways, all four ended up in Kansas City, both Missouri and Kansas.

These narratives work backwards from my four grandparents and trace the ancestors along the male line.  Souurces include family documents and photographs, a wonderful 19th Century family history, DNA analysis, maps, legal documents, scholarly articles, census records, newspaper articles, interviews and family stories...many of which are true.  There are unsolved mysteries, a lurid murder and trail, and plenty of local history.  The text is annotated and extensively illustrated.

The narratives also focus on Ruth Marie Platt and William Lee Pickett, Sr., a daughter and a son of the above grandparents, whose marraiage in 1934 created my family of origin.

Thee book is available on and is only acessible thrrough the following direct links:

Monday, January 2, 2023

Eulogy for Thomas M. McFadden 1935-2022

Tom McFadden
 Tom McFadden was my closest friend.  His passing on December  6 left me, his family and his many friends bereft of a remarkable human being.  As his request, his wife Monica, also a dear friend, asked me to make some remarks at his memorial service on December 17. 

You can click here to download a copy of the eulogy which you can read below.

Thomas More McFadden  1935-2022

Eulogy delivered by William Pickett

December 17, 2022


Good morning. I'm Bill Pickett, and I'm the person who had the good sense to hire Tom at St. John Fisher College as our chief academic officer.  I had the pleasure of working with him for the five years he was there.  Then like everybody else, when Tom was a part of your life, he never let go. He's been a part of my life ever since that time.

When Tom asked me to do this..well he didn’t quite asked me, exactly. It was a typical kind of McFadden] move with a little charm and some humor. So, this was a telephone conversation the week before he died.  At the time there seemed like there might have been a path to a treatment that he was considering. And he said to me--Marilyn and I were both on the phone with him--he said, "Now, Bill, I want you to do me a favor. Will you try and keep my eulogy to under 50 minutes? Maybe 45 if you can't quite fit it in?"

I, of course, did what you just did. I laughed. I said, "Well, Tom, it's going to be hard to do, but I'll give it a go." And I kind of knew in the back of my head, and certainly once we got off the phone, I realized what had just happened.  Maybe he didn't know he was going to die so soon, but he was beginning to make preparations. And he had asked me, in his own way, to give his eulogy. So, here I am.

Irenaeus was a second century bishop who had a line that is often translated as, "The glory of God is a human being fully alive." And that's Tom. I mean, he fully inhabited who he was. He fully inhabited his abilities and skills and his relationships. He was, as David said and Ed said, fully present in whatever the moment was. He was fully alive. He was a student, a scholar, a teacher, a priest, an educational leader. And if that weren't enough, he was, from a young age, a gifted athlete. He played baseball and had a lifelong love for the game. Tennis, golf, sailing. I didn't know about the tennis until I read David's very fine obituary, which if you haven't read, you should. I learned some things about Tom. It's such a well-done job.

Eventually you get to the point where you can't participate, but Tom was a great fan of any kind of athletic endeavor, great fan of baseball from an early age, a lifelong ... Well, I thought he was a lifelong Dodgers fan, but turned out he was not because as a young boy--this is almost unbelievable, growing up in Brooklyn--he decided that he needed to decide who he was going to root for among baseball teams by figuring out which baseball team had the most Catholics. And to this day, I'm not quite sure how he figured that out. Something to do with players wearing scapulars. I don't know how this all worked, but he determined that it was the St. Louis Cardinals. So, as a young boy, he was a Cardinal fan.  He got over that and became a Dodgers' fan, of course. And then, when they left and scampered out to Los Angeles, there he was back home with the Dodgers.

He was also a fan of his children and especially his grandchildren. You couldn't spend any time with Tom and not know what the four of them were up to, what their academic achievements were, what their athletics, their professional. He always had that information, and he was always so proud of them. He attended as many of the athletic events as he could, and thankfully, many of them were close enough to drive to, and he really enjoyed that. And somehow, he got the nickname on the fields at Mercyhurst after games of being Grandpa Jello Shot.  I'm a little confused as to how that happened. It had something to do with celebrations at mid field, and Tom participated as he did. I'm not sure he completely was down with the Jello shots, but [inaudible 00:05:22] he wasn't having a scotch in the evening.

Tom was a man of many accomplishments, as we've heard, but people aren't really remembered that much for their accomplishments. Any of us can have a list of things we've done, institutions we've served, all of that. What we remember about people is how they did it, who they were as a person. And Tom, from my time working with him and being with him as a friend, did his work and did his accomplishments with a grace. He was graceful in these settings. It was the grace of a natural athlete, the one who can stand relaxed, crack jokes, talk about other things even though there's an impending task because he knows he has the confidence in his own ability. And when that task comes, he'll be able to perform.

Now sometimes, that confidence as a natural athlete put Tom in some perilous conditions. He and young David, younger than David is now, found themselves on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii because they, after all, were skilled at being in the surf off the Jersey Shore. So, they wanted to go see what all of this big wave stuff was about on the North Shore. And as they entered the water, they noticed somehow that the lifeguard towers were much, much higher than the ones on the Jersey shore. But they didn't take time to figure out why that would be the case until as they're out chest deep in the water, they hear a claxon go off and an announcement that, in fact, from one of those high towers, they have now spotted a 40-foot wave that was headed their way. And anyone who wasn't very experienced should get the hell out of the water immediately, which they did thankfully, as we know.

But Tom did have that grace of a natural athlete. And another thing about him that I know my wife, Marilyn, always treasured, and I know you do too, it was particularly evident during Covid when we had to cover our face, was that Tom's eyes were always smiling eyes. There was something alive and comfortable and humorous in the twinkling of those eyes that came through to people as they related to him. Now, for someone who was as comfortable doing all the things he did, a lot of people didn't realize how hard he worked because that kind of easiness. It's like the story about the dock, very calm on the surface, underneath paddling like hell.

And one example of that is his work on accreditation. Something that most of us don't thankfully have anything to do with, but if you have had anything to do with accreditation, you know it requires a close reading of some of the worst writing that exists in the world. It's not graceful writing, and it's about material that is absolutely dull, but essential to the accreditation process. And Tom, even after he left California, as president of a college when you're expected to do that, he continued doing accreditation work and was actually called in to handle some very difficult cases. Things like, "Should we pull the accreditation from a college or not?" That's a very serious step. And Tom was called in to work on that team, "Should we grant accreditation to new institutions?" One in California. And he worked in Kurdistan, I think working with some institutions there.

He was trusted by his fellow professionals, and they knew how hard he worked. The only other person who knows how hard he worked is Monica, who would see him constantly in the den, in the study, reading these reports, taking careful notes, and then working to write those to send back those reports and going out visits. And most people may be outside of the higher ed network, don't know this, but you don't get paid for that work. That's all volunteer work. That's commitment to the enterprise of higher education, to which Tom was very committed, and he worked so hard at that.

But if I had to say one thing about Tom, it would be he was a great teammate. He really was. He loved nothing more than being part of a group with a common goal. And everybody wanted to be on a team with Tom, or if you had a team, you wanted Tom to be on. When I interviewed him in 1987, I was in that position, and I knew that I wanted Tom McFadden to bring himself and his person into the team that was responsible for the college. And he had an impact well beyond what you might think he would've had at the college. And it still stands as the best decision I ever made in my career.

But you wanted to be on a team with Tom because he found joy in whatever the work was, no matter how unpleasant or how difficult. He found a sense of joy in that. And he was always affirming other team members. I don't think I ever heard him be critical. He was affirming of other people and their attempts and the ways in which they were trying to help the enterprise. And he found humor in all the appropriate places, especially himself.

So, towards the end of Tom's first year at Fisher, he came up with this idea that there should be a baseball game between administrators and faculty at St. John Fisher College and St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia from whence he had come. And he found out that you could, without paying any fee, use Abner Doubleday Field in Cooperstown because they want baseball being played here. I'm not sure they wanted our kind of baseball. So, the only requirements were two, you had to have team uniforms, and you had to pay these two old umpires because you needed to have an umpire. You just couldn't go off and make calls yourself. And if any of you have remembered the film “League of Their Own, at the very end of that, there's a reunion game in Cooperstown, and if you ever see that, you'll see those same two umpires. Those are the guys who umpired our games.

Each team got a ringer. And so, my son, Brendan, who was going into his junior at Aquinas was our ringer because God knows we needed somebody to play catcher. That was way beyond any of our capabilities. And the other team had a ringer, as well. So, we had our ringer, and turns out we only really had one pitcher, Thomas More McFadden. We decided we probably needed to get together for a practice. So, we did. We gathered on a field, and as my son, Brendan, told me this week when I was telling him, he said, "You know, Dad, none of you guys had any business being on baseball field." But we had to practice batting. So, we had Tom throw batting practice during our practice, which meant that the next day his arm was absolutely dead. So, we go down to Cooperstown without a pitcher. Although he throws the ball, it was not a pretty picture. So, we lost both games. We came from behind and stayed behind.

But while we were there playing, looking kind of like two baseball teams, people would come in. People who are visiting Cooperstown would come into the stadium. You know, you kind of go in, peek around, see what's going on. And so, there were a group of Japanese tourists who come into the stadium, and they're all over, and they're taking pictures of us playing baseball, and they're going to go back home and talk about how at the birthplace of baseball, they saw these two teams slugging it out on their Field of Dreams. Tom loved telling that tale because of what it said about him and his ability to find humor in what we were doing. It was so ridiculous what we were doing. We never did it again. Tom couldn't recruit anyone to do it again. But as I said before, once you were part of a team with Tom, he just never let you go. He stayed in touch with people from every organization he had been a part of over his entire life. It's just amazing.

Some of us, maybe most of us don't do that, but Tom did. He did. And when Tom asked you, "How are you doing?" it wasn't the way I asked, "Hey, how you doing?" It was, "No, how are you doing?" And he really wanted to know, and he listened to what you said, and because of that, you really told him how you were doing right then at that moment. I've had conversations with Tom, such a close friend of mine, that I've never had with anyone else because he listened and was present and listened to you. And because you no matter what you said, you didn't put anything at risk in terms of Tom's love and affection for you. You weren't risking anything. And no matter how things were going, people always felt that Tom had a profound sense of happiness about him, no matter what.

Some people set high bars for friendship but Tom didn't. He saw humanity in every person, and he was inherently interested in anyone that he came across. Tom and I had breakfast every Saturday, once they got back to Rochester, every Saturday for years until Covid and then, his illness began to make that impossible, or to interfere with it, at least. And these were not quick breakfasts. No, they went on at least two hours, and we talk about all sorts of things. I mean everything. And the image that came to my mind, and it came to Tom's, those of you that ever saw The Muppet Show, the two old guys in the balcony looking down at what's going on in the stage, a stage they had been on.  But they weren't on that stage anymore. They were up here, and they were outraged that the stupidity and they couldn't explain was going on in the world. And then, maybe not like those two guys, soon we would find things that would generate hope for the future in the country, politics, higher education. And there was so much about today's world that neither one of us really understood. I used to explain a lot of technical things to Tom, but I couldn't explain TikTok.  I mean, I can't. I know what it is, but why? I don't know. So, we would throw up our hands just like those old guys.

We all miss Tom. My life, your lives, all of our lives are less light-filled, less bright, certainly less filled with good news. We miss him. And what I'm about to say is probably theologically suspect, but I'm sure Ed will appreciate it. And I know Tom would.

We miss Tom, but I think Tom misses us. Tom's life was never a one-way street, a street laid out to get efficiently from point A to point B. It was never that kind of street. I like to think, to imagine, it was like those streets in Brooklyn where he grew up. It was filled with traffic and vehicles of all types, stick ball games, jump rope, hopscotch, street vendors, people gathered on stoops, children, parents, teenagers, and seniors. And then,, Tom walked through those streets, stopping to engage with groups, sharing his life with each one and receiving back from them that energy that came from that interchange. This past week, we've been reading about fusion. Some of you may have been reading about that. I mean, I don't really understand what's going on, but I know that they've reached something called ignition, which was for a very brief second, the energy that they bombarded this BB with created more energy than that total energy used. And I thought, "That's Tom."  That's Tom and his relationship with people. His energy created something in us and our relationship that generated even more more energy, more affection, more sharing.

Until Covid came, we would go to a lot of movies, the four of us, Monica and Tom and Marilyn and I.  Tom and I had very different aesthetics when it came to movies. I always accused Tom, not accused him, well yeah, of being way too Aristotelian. He wanted a straight narrative line. And at the end of that, he wanted to find a message, some deeper meaning. And I was a little more post-modern. I just said, "Tom, sometimes there isn't any meaning. It's just stuff is happening, and you just got to engage with it. Maybe meaning emerges, maybe not." Never did get him convinced to go see the Lobster or the Swiss Army Man, if anybody remembers that. But we did go to see The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, with Nicholas Cage.  And Tom admitted, he said, "I really enjoyed that." And he said, "I wouldn't have gone to see it unless it was your week to pick the movie." So, I felt great victory there. We would go to these movies, and Marilyn knows I always want to get there before the trailers start because I want to see what's coming. Right? And so we go, and the four of us, in the nice comfortable recliners now, would be watching the trailers. And at the end of that, the three of them would go like this. And I'd be down on the end saying, "Oh, I think this is pretty good."  I never did get around to trying to convince him to see “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

But I think now Tom would say, "Well, Bill, if what you described is a movie about my life, what's the meaning? What does it all amount to when you get to the end?" And I think it's pretty simple.  For Tom, the most important thing in life was human relationships. And they were too important to be left to chance. You needed to step out and be proactive and contact people and be in touch with people. Don't let it go because a relationship can die and wither away. And then your life becomes less full. And the life of people you would be in touch with would be less full. So, if each one of us, going forward, just would do that a little bit more than we've done or than we think is comfortable for us, we'll do great honor to the memory of this remarkable human being who was father, husband, grandfather, uncle, and my closest friend.


Sunday, September 20, 2020

Why" Black Lives Matter" matters to me.

Black Lives Matter began in July 2013 as a hashtag #blacklivesmatter in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2011.  It gained national attention in 2014 with the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City.  While there is a national organization of sorts, BLM is best described as a “decentralized network of activists with no formal hierarchy.” (Wikipedia) For me and many others, however, the phrase is a simple expression of a powerful truth:  All human lives matter.  When I see or hear these words, I think of the Old Testament prophets speaking out against injustice.  I think of the Psalms crying out for mercy and justice.  

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear grief in my soul,
    have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy prevail over me?  Psalm 13

Since I believe this, I am forced to speak out when there is clear evidence that some lives do not matter.

How we treat our neighbor is not a zero-sum game.  It is a false proposition that we can only value some lives at the expense of other lives.  When I hear people respond to BLM by asking about “blue lives,” or “white lives,” or “unborn lives,” I think, “That’s exactly right.”  All lives matter and so too should black lives, not instead of other lives but just like other lives.  Black lives should matter just as much as white lives but, in fact, they do not.

Like many white people I was disposed to view the disturbing string of deaths of black citizens as isolated incidents each of which seemed to have extenuating circumstances.  In other words I was disposed toward the status quo.  All that changed with the homicide of George Floyd.  The video of an officer sworn to protect and serve casually killing a citizen who posed no threat to himself, the officer or bystanders lives vividly and disturbingly in my memory.  When the EMT crew arrived, they dragged Floyd’s lifeless body as though he was roadkill.  They acted with the assurance and arrogance of impunity.  Because of a 17-year-old girl and her cell phone, the entire world has been able to witness this tragic interaction between police and citizen in a country which most of the world sees as a beacon of liberty.  I was horrified at what I saw, not because it has not happened before but because this time it was blatant, out in the open, and undeniable.  I do not want this done in my name, not ever. 

I also realized that this had happened too often in the past several years to view it as an isolated incident; there is a systemic problem that goes well beyond individual police officers.  I want to believe that most police officers would condemn this and other instances of excessive force but this abuse of power may be more common than we know.  Unfortunately, the lack of comprehensive and transparent information on police use of force makes it difficult to know for sure.  We do know that as the interaction between militarized police and demonstrators increased, the acts of violence also increased.  Things got worse, not better.

I believe this is not just about individual police officers who have acted illegally.  We ask those sworn to serve and protect us to do so in a society awash with guns of all kinds so that even a simple traffic stop can erupt into deadly gunfire.  We ask them to serve in a society with endemic racism which has become more visible in the last three years.  We ask them to protect us in a society riven by polarizing political differences that our political leaders have exacerbated rather than diminished.  We ask them to provide public safety in a society in which social and economic inequality has increased and predictably resulted in social and health dysfunctions.  We must begin to deal with these systemic problems.

The fact that George Floyd was a black man has underscored the racial issues involved in policing.  As a white man, I have never experienced what it is like to view police as dangerous protagonists.  However, I have no doubt that what my black friends say about their experience is valid and true.   I have never had to have “the talk” with my children but if I or they were black, it would be irresponsible not to.  This is a deeply sad situation.

All this has happened during a pandemic which has impacted black and brown people and communities more severely than white people and communities.  Clearly income and economic inequality drives much of this impact, but that inequality is also driven by racism against people of color.  To be poor is one thing but to be poor because of your race is a death sentence.  

All this matters to me because I try to live my life as a follower of Jesus Christ.  He accepted and welcomed all, no matter their circumstances.  He was particularly concerned about those on the margins, the “nobodies,” the excluded, the different.  His Kingdom was for all and still is.  His earliest followers lived their lives as expressions of that fundamental equality.  No one was to count more than any other.  All lives mattered to him but he gave special attention to those whose lives the “powers that be” devalued.  So, I believe, must we.

Friday, July 17, 2020

George Edward Pickett: Is Fort Pickett a good idea?

Fort Pickett was established in 1942 as Camp Pickett.  It has been in more or less continuous use since then.  It was initially home to the 79th Infantry Division but has served many purposes and army units since then.  It is currently used by Virginia National Guard and Air Guard units.  It was named for George Edward Pickett.  The fort's website tells us that "the name was chosen to honor Richmond, Virginia native Major General George E. Pickett, whose ill-fated charge at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania during the US Civil War, holds a unique place in the history of warfare." 

 Almost 80 years later does it make sense to name a military facility after a general who led troops against the United States and its soldiers? I am distantly related to General Pickett and I want to tell you something about his background and my thinking on the issue.  I will conclude that I think it was a bad idea in 1942 and an even worse one today.  

My reasoning has nothing to do with the fact that he and his family were owners of enslaved people.  This is a sad and disturbing fact about my ancestors on my father's side of the family.  Even the branch of the family that left Virginia for Kentucky and then Missouri, my home state, brought enslaved persons with them.  They came to Missouri precisely because it was a state in which slavery was permitted through the Missouri Compromise of 1820.  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers owned enslaved persons.  Whether or not the abominable practice of chattel slavery ought to cancel out the achievements of these men is a different question from the one I will discuss here.

George Edward Pickett graduated last in his class from Westpoint and served in the United States Army until the outbreak of the Civil War.  He resigned his commission and joined the Confederate Army.  He quickly rose to the rank of Major General, a divisional commander, and demonstrated over and over again that he was well beyond his competence.  He is best known for the final decisive battle at Gettysburg that bears his name, Pickett's Charge.  Known as the High Watermark of the Confederacy, it marked the turning point in the war and the beginning of the end for the Army of Virginia.  The Fort Pickett website delicately describes this as holding a "unique place in the history of warfare."

As a boy and young man growing up in Missouri, I remember my Pickett relatives talking about "The General" with the pride that comes from a family relationship.  Pickett's wife and widow, La Salle (Sally) Corbell Pickett, was a prolific though minor novelist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Her work was part of the Lost Cause literature.  "According to Lost Cause writers, the Civil War did not start because of slavery, secession was a constitutional right, Confederate generals were knightly heroes, and the South only lost because it was outmanned and outgunned."  (Wikipedia)

From "The Heart of a

I read the first of her twelve books, "Pickett and His Men" (1899) and believed her depiction of George as possessing "the greatest capacity for happiness and such dauntless courage and self-control that, to all appearances, he could as cheerfully and buoyantly steer his way over the angry, menacing, tumultuous surges of life as over the waves that glide in tranquil smoothness and sparkle in the sunlight of a calm, clear sky." Her depiction of George as "gallant and graceful as a knight of chivalry riding to a tournament" was the epitome of the Lost Cause romanticization of the rebellion to retain the practice of chattel slavery in the United States. 

I'm sure you heard that "history is written by the winners."  However, in terms of the American imagination about the Civil War, this was reversed.  It was the South's version that most of the country bought into.  It even found its way into mainstream history books which taught that the war wasn't about slavery but states rights and economics.  That narrative conveniently never pointed out that the rebel states wanted to retain the rights to own other human beings which was essential to the economics of the South.  In his biography of General Grant, Ron Chernow quotes General James Longstreet--Robert E. Lee's "old warhorse"--"I never heard of any other cause of the quarrel than slavery."
There were enough statements by the leadership of the Confederacy to establish the goal of the rebellion.  It was indisputably to maintain the institution of chattel slavery.  The Vice-President of the Confederate States, Alexander Stephens, put the matter plainly.  The Confederacy was based on “…the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition.”

Writing in the Atlantic Ta-Nihis Coates observes the obvious:  "Thus in 1861, when the Civil War began, the Union did not face a peaceful Southern society wanting to be left alone. It faced an aggressive power, a Genosha, an entire society based on the bondage of a third of its residents, with dreams of expanding its fields of the bondage further South. It faced the dream of a vast American empire of slavery. In January of 1861, three months before the Civil War commenced, Florida secessionists articulated the position directly:

 'At the South, and with our People of course, slavery is the element of all value, and a destruction of that destroys all that is property. This party, now soon to take possession of the powers of the Government, is sectional, irresponsible to us, and driven on by an infuriated fanatical madness that defies all opposition, must inevitably destroy every vestige or right growing out of property in slaves.'"
Frederick Douglass
The Lost Cause literature sought to obfuscate the obvious.  It presented a genteel southern life with cultured gentlemen, beautiful women, obedient children and happy--yes, HAPPY--enslaved persons.  Slavery had elevated them from their natural circumstances into a world of care and concern by generous and thoughtful owners.  This was the view of slavery perpetuated by that literature.  Other literature, generally not read by the white population, presented a different picture.  Read the three autobiographies of Frederick Douglass or Solomon Northrup's 
memoir "12 Years a Slave" to gain a true picture of what chattel slavery was really like.  The image of George E. Pickett that I experienced in Missouri came from that Southern propaganda.

So let's be clear.  Upon his graduation from West Point and his commissioning,  Pickett took an oath to preserve and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.  He decided to join the rebellion of the Confederacy and then served in the resulting war that took 750,000 American lives.  Eight percent of all white males age 13 through 43 died including a devastating 18 percent of that age group in the South.  This war to preserve the right to own other human beings was not a benign effort to preserve a genteel way of life.  It was an assault on justice in defense of white supremacy and Pickett was a leader in that effort.

All of that is horrid enough but there is more.   After the disaster of Gettysburg, Pickett was eventually placed in command of the Department of North Carolina.  When the war began, the available trained North Carolina troops were sent to Virginia to protect Richmond, the Confederate capital.  Home guard units were organized in North Carolina but little attention was paid to defending against Union invasions.  In 1862 the Union forces attacked and took control of New Bern, an important port on the Neuse River with direct access to the Atlantic. From the beginning of the war, many North Carolinians held Union sympathies and did not support succession.  Many of these enlisted in home guard units rather than join the Confederate Army.  As the recruiting pressure mounted even to impressment gangs, they presented themselves to Union forces and enlisted.  In almost all cases, they were never part of the Confederate army.

In 1864 with his division still recovering from its mauling at Cemetary Ridge, Pickett was ordered to retake New Berne.  As with most of his endeavors in the Civil War, he and his troops were not successful.  Most historians lay the blame at his failure to prepare, organize and properly deploy his troops.  However, he did capture more than 200 Union soldiers from a relief column that the Confederates surprised.  Included in these 200 were 22 Union soldiers whom Pickett ordered hanged, claiming they were Confederate Army deserters.  Both Pickett and General Robert E. Lee advocated executions for deserters to stem the hemorrhaging of their troops, particularly in the last two years of the war.  While a few of those executed might have come from Confederate units, most were North Carolinians with Union sentiments who joined the Union units in their area.  When the war ended, Pickett was under investigation for this action as a war crime.  He and his family fled to Montreal in fear of those charges.  He returned to the United States only when granted a promise of non-prosecution at the urging of General Grant, a classmate at West Point and fellow soldier during the Mexican War.

Full disclosure:  I am related to Pickett.  We share a common ancestor:  William Pickett (1700-1766.)  He was my 5th Great Grandfather and George's Great Grandfather.  This makes us second cousins four times removed.  A slight but verified relationship.  In light of the foregoing information, it makes little sense to me to continue with the name Fort Pickett.  It perpetuates an idea that somehow the Civil War wasn't that bad and that those who led it are worthy of emulation.  I think George Edward Pickett V summed up my position:

“I support removal of all statues commemorating and celebrating the Southern Confederates in public locations. They should be permanently removed and either destroyed or sunk in the ocean for a fishing/diving reef: the Graveyard of the Confederacy.

“As to the statues on battlefields, such as Gettysburg, where both Union and Confederate soldiers are represented, it is my opinion that they serve a valid historical purpose in that context, where people can learn about history and the terrible consequences when people refuse to treat all people as equal.”
I think the same applies to all ten bases named for Confederate generals.  While some of them may have been better military leaders than Pickett, they still fought against the United States to protect the institution of slavery.  We should not memorialize these men and set them as examples to others.  All ten are located in states that rebelled.  Their existence perpetuates a view of the Civil War as it was depicted in the Lost Cause.  Statues of these and other Confederate leaders that dot the landscape of the southern United States are not only part of that interpretation effort but also reflect the white supremacy politics of the era of their erection:  the second rise of the Klu Klux Klan in the early 20th Century and the opposition to full civil rights for black Americans in the sixties and seventies.  These monuments were not historical statements about the Civil War but contemporary statements to the descendants of enslaved persons that they were still under the heel of the Old South and its politics of enslavement.  

We all need to remember the history of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, segregation and the fight against equality and justice.  This is not best done by heroic statues honoring those who engaged in and supported those efforts.  It is best done by honest and complete interpretative material in battlegrounds, museums, school curricula and celebrations.  The Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte is a fine example of how this can be done.  In a statement reflecting on nationwide reaction to the murder of George Floyd, the head of the museum wrote these words:  
None of us at Levine Museum pretends to have the answer, but what we do know is that healing begins with history.  If you do not understand the history that got us to this place, then you will not make a difference.  If you don’t know the history, then you are not talking about the right things or addressing the right questions.  
Levine Museum of the New South connects the past with the present to realize the promises of a New South – a place of justice and equity and opportunity for all.  We use history to build community. 
Indeed, let us use history to build community.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Take a pledge to reduce racial polarization

I am asking each of you to take a pledge to reduce racial polarization.  I believe that this or something very similar is the only way to begin to address the issues that have become so apparent to the white majority in the past three months.  I want to share my thoughts about why this is the time for action.  The text of the pledge is at the end of this blog post.  If you prefer to listen to a podcast, click here.

We find ourselves at a critical point in our national history.  Through a concurrence of events--COVID-19, the chilling, cold-blooded murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the hunting down and murdering of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, the police assault with a no-knock warrant that ended with the bullet-ridden body of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and the militarized police response to peaceful protests particularly in our nation's capital--Americans seem to have come, finally, to a recognition of the damage done to us all by the 400-year tradition of racism in America.  

Demonstrations have taken place in more than 60 countries on all continents except Antarctica.  In the United States, the demonstrations are unprecedented in scope and size.  Since May 26 there have been more than 4,700 demonstrations.  The estimate of the number of participants ranges from 15 to 26 million.  Self-reported participation may well be exaggerated but if the number is only 7 to 13 million it dwarfs the number of participants in the civil rights marches during the sixties.  According to the NY Times demonstration database and the Crowd Counting
Consortium database, "m
ore than 40 percent of counties in the United States — at least 1,360 — have had a protest. Unlike past Black Lives Matter protests, nearly 95 percent of counties that had a protest recently are majority white, and nearly three-quarters of the counties are more than 75 percent white."  Mainline organizations almost immediately lent their support in both words and actions.  The National Football League and NASCAR are two of the most significant.  Political action has already taken place in New York state and city, Minneapolis and several other jurisdictions. 

It is not overblown to say that a tipping point has been reached.  People of all races and socioeconomic levels have heard something and they don't like it.  They are demanding their government at all levels take action to change.  If governmental leaders don't hear them or ignore them, they will change those leaders.  And this is as it should be.

But let's be honest.  Legal and administrative changes are important and necessary but they are not sufficient.  Didn't we learn that lesson with Brown v the Topeka Board of Education?  We can declare separate but equal to be unconstitutional but unless people's hearts change, the problem will remain and even get worse.  White flight from the urban core cities left behind school systems effectively segregated and chronically underfunded to educate a lower socioeconomic clientele.  Hearts don't change because laws change; hearts change through relationships.  

The changes in the legal status of LGBTQ Americans followed changes in attitudes of people toward people whose sexual orientation was different than theirs.  As more people discovered that family members, valued colleagues, friends, and even celebrities were lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender, they realized that their sexual orientation didn't define them.  The opposition to the constitutional and legal rights of LGBTQ people evaporated in a remarkably short time.  Unless, of course, race entered the equation.  White people began to accept white LGBTQ people.  That acceptance came through relationships.  The same can happen with race relations but it has to come through personal relationships.  I know in my own case my heart has been changed from the relationships I had with people who are different from me in sexual orientation and in race.  If the only people I ever had meaningful relationships with were white, straight males and females, I would not be the person I am today.

I know that many of you understand the damage that systemic racism has done to America and Americans--all Americans.  I know that many of you have taken action in your private and public lives to work for change and justice.  These
recent events have an unsettling message for us:  no matter how much we have done, it has not been enough.  We have to do more if we hope to come close to realizing the ideals on which America was founded:  That all people are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

That's why I am renewing my commitment to a Pledge to Reduce Racial Polarization in My Neighborhood and Community and I invite you to do the same.  This pledge is adapted from a pledge developed and promoted by the Urban League of Rochester in 1992.  (I was privileged to serve as a board member and chair of the membership committee of the Rochester Urban League.)  The structural and procedural changes needed in this moment are beyond any individual's scope of responsibility.  We can and should pressure our elected officials to enact needed reforms in program and funding.  But we--each of us--need to take action in our own sphere.  I encourage each of us to commit to this pledge.  I think it is particularly important to reach out to people of color in our neighborhoods, social organizations, workplaces, and other networks and to have honest conversations about race in America.  For me as a white male, this means more listening and less talking.  This is how hearts are changed.

Pledge to Reduce Racial Polarization in my Neighborhood and Community

  • I will not engage in racial polarization and will intervene when others do.

  • I will identify and implement specific actions to improve race relations in my neighborhood and community.

  • I will reach out to neighbors, friends or colleagues of a different race and have honest conversations about race based on our personal experiences.

  • I will publicize my pledge to my network of family, friends and colleagues and bring it to the attention of organizations of which I am a part.

I want to live in a community where people

·         Accept all cultural, religious and racial heritages rather than fighting them.

·         Use language that unites rather than divides.

·         Reach out to neighbors rather than avoid those who are different.

·         Learn about others who appear different rather than believe and accept stereotypes.

·         Organize, educate and encourage others to eliminate all forms of racism rather than just live with it.

·         Object to racial jokes rather than listen to or laugh at them.

·         Speak out against racism rather than passively observe it.

·         Refuse to use any form of racially derogatory language rather than accept it as part of my vocabulary.


William L Pickett     Henrietta NY   July 3, 2020   585-732-1832

This an adaptation of a pledge developed by the Urban League of Rochester NY in 1992.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

What I have learned during the pandemic - Part 2

This is the second of two posts on what I learned during the pandemic.  You can read about the first five in Part 1 of this blog post.

6. Racism continues to be a central issue for America

W. E. B.  Du Bois
In 1903 W. E. B. DuBois wrote in The Souls of Black Folk, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.”  COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis remind all of us that this statement is also true of 21st Century America.  The infection and death rates of Covid-19 are disproportionally high for black and brown communities.  This is not because of any inherent characteristics of these communities and people but because of the disproportionate rate of poverty of these groups.  The pandemic has brought into shocking visibility the lethal combination of racism and poverty in this country.  In biology a specimen is often stained with dye so the structure and features show up more clearly under a microscope.  The pandemic has been such a dye for the social, economic and health disparities in our country.

The murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer was captured in a chilling video.  It has left indelible impressions in our minds and hearts.  We white people can see unmistakably what our fellow black and brown citizens have been telling us for decades, even centuries.  We now can understand that all those previous instances of black people dying at the hands of police were not exaggerations.  In fact, all those separate incidents are not separate at all but expressions of systemic issues with our policing agencies reflecting the systemic issues in our communities.  This time, perhaps, enough is enough.

7. National leadership is abominable while state leaders shine.

I have developed a new appreciation for the leadership at state and local levels.  Given the disarray at the federal level, I along with most others have turned to our local and state leaders for information and guidance as we live during this pandemic.  I am fortunate to live in New York where Governor Cuomo has risen to the occasion.  His daily news briefings have been consistent, coherent, and based on information.  He has also been more self-disclosive than I have ever experienced him.  His reflections on his family and his personal feelings have helped me connect with him as a person not just as a political official.  This has been repeated in many other states as governors have stepped into the leadership void.  I have also experienced this at the local county level.  Governors and county executives care about us in ways that the national leadership does not appear to.

8. Solitude is not all bad.

It turns out that I have never been a big fan of constant social interaction.  My professional life was spent interacting with people constantly.  However, my leisure activities were all solitary:  photography (capturing, developing and printing images), reading, writing, hiking, walking/running, and web site development.  With the pandemic, I have more time to do these very things and do not miss social interaction as much as others.

9. I have upped my cooking game with Ninja Foodi Deluxe

Typically, I cook dinner.  I got into that habit when I had retired, and Marilyn was still working.  It was a way of lightening her load a bit but also allowed me to set the time for dinner rather than have it vary depending on Marilyn.  I like to eat between 6 and 6:30 and cooking, which I like, was not any price at all to pay to ensure that.  Once Marilyn retired, she began to do some more cooking but I probably did more than she did.  My meals have been pretty basic and prepared quickly.  With the Ninja Foodi Deluxe, I have been doing more complicated recipes that often include sauces.  So far I have done the following:  several salmon dinners with tasty sauces, braised short ribs, jambalaya, pineapple upside-down cake, berry upside-down cake, seared scallops and pearled couscous, chicken and fried rice,  chicken and dirty rice and more.  So far I am having a lot of fun and Marilyn is enjoying the food.  Come to think of it, this reminds me of a certain fence getting whitewashed in Hannibal Missouri.

10. My sleep has improved

In some ways, this has been the most surprising.  Ove a year ago I decided to focus on getting at least seven and a half hours of sleep a night. That means that I would need to be in bed for at least eight and a half hours since I typically am awake about an hour a night, according to Fitbit.  The key is going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time.  Before the pandemic, that would work for most nights but if we went out for the evening, I was rarely able to get back home in time to hit my target of between nine and nine-thirty.  Now I can because we are not going out.  If I go to bed between nine and nine-thirty and get up around six, I can routinely get my goal.  In addition, the Fitbit gives me all sorts of information on the quality of that sleep.  This encourages me to stick to my routine so I get a “good grade” in the morning when I sync with the app.

11. Zoom, zoom

I have joined most Americans and have spent a lot of time on Zoom.  It was novel at first but now has settled into a routine.  I have regularly scheduled zoom calls with friends, my siblings, and my children.  The pandemic has meant that the interaction has increased with my siblings and children.  Plus interacting with both as groups has added an element that would otherwise never be the case.  The conversations cover all sorts of topics.  There is natural storytelling and reminiscing about our times together.  But we also talk about current issues.  It is a constant pleasure for me to listen to my children expressing their views about what is going on in their worlds.  Each of the seven is a fully developed individual with their own ideas, experiences and families.  They don't necessarily agree on issues but they express affection and respect for their brothers and sisters.

I have learned or come to an awareness of many other things as well but these are the ones that are the most significant.

What I have learned during the pandemic - Part 1

In the over three months that I have restricted my life because of the pandemic, I have learned a lot about myself and others.  Here are the first five things I learned.  There are another six in Part 2 of this blog.

1. The clown car national administration is incapable of keeping us safe.

This was not that much of a surprise, but still.  Specifically I mean the top political leadership.  This ramshackle collection of politically correct top leadership is supported by a honeycomb of acting deputies.  None of these are particularly adept at their jobs but they understand their audience and their clientele.  And it’s not us!  They are in their jobs because they tell Trump what he wants to hear.  Ideologically most of them are hell-bent on reducing or destroying the civilian agencies they lead.  Of course, it made no sense to them to continue the work of the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense.  This office was established after the Ebola epidemic of 2014 to marshal the resources of the federal government to be ready for the next epidemic or pandemic.  It was as if the captain of the Titanic was hobnobbing with wealthy passengers with no one on the bridge.  “We haven’t hit an iceberg yet and besides this ship is unsinkable.”

When we did hit the inevitable iceberg, no one was in charge.  Valuable time was lost while rookies tried to understand what was going on.  They were getting briefed by “experts”—the very people they had spent three years belittling and undercutting.  Once they understood the danger, they lost even more time trying to convince the captain to leave the lights and adulation of the ballroom and focus on a clear and present danger.  Once he began to grasp what had happened and what was about to happen, he began to make sure that no one blamed him.  Famously, he finally said that “I am not responsible for anything.”  Stirring words as we began to sink into the frigid North Atlantic.  If he had been the captain of the Titanic, we all know that he would not have gone down with his ship but would have found a way to bully his way into a lifeboat and leave most of us behind.

It is sad that we have a president who is incapable of leadership, especially sad when we need leadership desperately.  More about that later.

2. Epidemiology

I have learned a lot about epidemiology.  Here is a list of the terms I now know but of which I had been unaware two months ago.

  • SARS CoV 2:  The name of the virus that is spreading throughout the world.  Full name:  Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.
  • COVID-19:  The disease caused by SARS CoV-2
  • R₀:  Infection rate:  How many people single infected person in turn infects.  “Epidemiological studies estimate each infection results in 1.4 to 3.9 new ones when no members of the community are immune and no preventive measures are taken.”  (Wikipedia)  Public health measures (social distancing, masks, and handwashing) attempt to reduce R₀ to less than 1.
  • Semi log graph:  Not sure I actually understand this but it gives a better picture of the rate of infection.
  • Ventilators:  Breathing machines required when a patient cannot provide enough oxygen on his or her own.
  • Face masks:  These are worn to protect others by reducing the free flow of water particles with normal breathing and especially coughing.
  • N95:  These facemasks are worn by health care workers and other front line workers to protect themselves from infected people.
  • PPE:  Personal protective equipment
  • Social distancing:  Staying at least six feet away from other people except those with whom you share a home.
  • Herd immunity:  a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through vaccination or previous infections, thereby providing a measure of protection for individuals who are not immune. It appears that 60-70 percent of a population is required for herd immunity which effectively stops the spread of the infection.  As of June 16, the CDC reports 2.1 million cases or less than one percent of U. S. population.  With the public health measures in place to flatten the curve, it will take years rather than months to reach herd immunity.  
  • Vaccine:  A vaccine is a biological preparation that provides active acquired immunity to a particular infectious disease.  While there has been extensive research to develop a vaccine against other coronaviruses—SARS and MERS—none of these were able to successfully emerge from clinical trials and gain licensing.  The World Health Organization said early on that it would take at least 18 months to have a vaccine ready for deployment.  That, of course, assumes that some of those under development will be successful in the clinical trials required for licensing.  18 months would be a record given that the average for vaccine development is more like four years.  This also leaves unanswered how one or possibly two injections will be made available to the global population of 7.8 billion.
3. Being outdoors is better no matter the weather.

In the early 1970s,  I began regular aerobic exercises.  The exact exercise has varied:  running, rope jumping and race walking.  More recently I have been walking four miles a day in an average week at a rapid but not racewalking pace.  During pleasant weather, I would walk outside, sometimes substituting hiking or biking for walking.  If the weather was inclement, I would walk indoors at our local recreation center, YMCA or mall.  The definition of inclement was beginning to expand to include light rain or even coolish weather.  Once the pandemic hit us, the rec center and the YMCA closed and I ventured outside to walk on days when I would normally go inside.  Guess what?  I found that being outdoors was great even if it seemed a little cool even cold or was raining a bit.  There was something about being in the fresh air especially feeling a breeze that really turns on my endorphins.  Now as the Y and the rec center are beginning to open, I find them much less appealing.  Whenever possible I try to do my walking outside as long as the footing is safe.

4. Exercise bands are not as good as machines at the YMCA.

Weight lifting was the other part of my regular workouts.  Nothing extreme but just enough to keep what muscles I had functioning.  Our YMCA has a full set of E-Gym equipment and I quickly became addicted to them.  I made sure that I worked out on the machines three times a week.  Their technology ensures I am doing the exercise correctly and gradually increases the weight as I get stronger.  The real kicker was an estimate of my biological age based on muscle strength.  I was able to get mine down to 50!  You can see why I was addicted.  That is all in the past and  I probably won’t be using them for some months more.  Two months into the shutdown, I bought a set of exercise bands and began to use them but it as just not the same.  I keep asking them what my biological age is but get no response.  Without that kind of re-enforcement, I just can’t tolerate the boredom of using them.

5. There is even more to watch on TV than I thought.

Other than the occasional national network news, we haven’t watched network television for months.  Before we left for Florida, I got a great deal from Spectrum and we decided to try cable again.  We added HBO Go to our other services:  Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix.  We can also stream PBS shows.  We were avid moviegoers and will be again but television and streaming are more than enough for us right now.  We are using a Roku so no wires.  Here are some of the shows we have been watching, both series and movies:

a. A Hidden Life
b. Tiger King
c. Dead to Me
d. Succession
e. Westworld
f. My Brilliant Friend
g. Veep
h. Silicon Valley
i. Ozark
j. Bosch
k. Unorthodox

I learned a lot more during the pandemic and you can read about those in Part 2 of this blog.